Good Thinking

Student-designed Solarball creates drinkable water

Student-designed Solarball cre...
The Solarball is a student-designed device that creates clean drinking water through evaporation and condensation (All photos courtesy Monash University)
The Solarball is a student-designed device that creates clean drinking water through evaporation and condensation (All photos courtesy Monash University)
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The Solarball is a student-designed device that creates clean drinking water through evaporation and condensation (All photos courtesy Monash University)
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The Solarball is a student-designed device that creates clean drinking water through evaporation and condensation (All photos courtesy Monash University)
The Solarball is a student-designed device that creates clean drinking water through evaporation and condensation
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The Solarball is a student-designed device that creates clean drinking water through evaporation and condensation
Inventor Jonathan Liow and the Solarball, which creates clean drinking water through evaporation and condensation
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Inventor Jonathan Liow and the Solarball, which creates clean drinking water through evaporation and condensation

When he set out on a trip to Cambodia in 2008, Industrial Design student Jonathan Liow had no idea it was going to be a life-changing experience. Upon seeing the poverty and poor living conditions in that country, however, he decided that he wanted to build things that could help people. After hearing about the need for cheap and effective water purification in Africa, he proceeded to create the Solarball for his graduate project at Australia's Monash University. The ball is reportedly capable of producing 3 liters (about 3 quarts) of drinkable water per day, using nothing but polluted water and sunlight.

Users start by pouring dirty water into the Solarball. That water proceeds to get heated by the Sun's rays, which shine in from 360 degrees through the ball's transparent upper section. Condensation forms on the inside of the ball, and is guided down to a spout via an internal gutter that runs around its diameter. What comes out is pure, clean water, as the contaminants are left behind in the unevaporated water.

Liow – who has since graduated from Monash – said that one of the main challenges in the design was "to make the device more efficient than other products available, without making it too complicated, expensive, or technical." The plastic used in its construction is food-safe and entirely recyclable, and we would hope it's UV-tolerant.

Inventor Jonathan Liow and the Solarball, which creates clean drinking water through evaporation and condensation
Inventor Jonathan Liow and the Solarball, which creates clean drinking water through evaporation and condensation

The Solarball has since been named as a finalist in the 2011 Australian Design Awards - James Dyson Award, and will be displayed at the Milan International Design Fair. Liow is currently in the process of looking for funding to get the ball manufactured and distributed on a large scale.

It would be interesting to see how it performs as compared to products utilizing SODIS water purification, in which the heat and radiation of sunlight are used to kill pathogens in tainted water.

Via Inhabitat

25 comments
Frank191
This is quite interesting and useful, but it is only good for puryfing water that contains salts or other non-evaporable substances. If light fractions of petrol, per example, are present in the water, it will just evaporate too and condense on the sides, just like the water. Still a good way to make saltwater drinkable though.
5318008
@Frank191 Agreed, but the product would still be better than drinking the non-evapourated polluted water that was put in there to begin with.
Von Meerman
What sort of unclean water does Africa suffer from? I was under the impression that it was more about bacteria and feces contamination than petrol. Regardless, this is an interesting idea. In regards for funding, maybe you can get people donating the cost - a sort of \'buy this African child clean drinking water\' thing. This provides less than the SIDOS system but has the advantage in that it doesn\'t need any internal parts (like filters) replaced.
Yule Brenner
It\'s a great concept...a couple things are of concern however...one is that He hopes the plastic is going to be UV tolerant? I would think that a product that is intended to be placed in direct sunlight would be UV tolerant. The claim that it receives 360 degrees of sunlight is not possible with this design....as only 180 degrees of the product are clear in the picture...but a good start regardless! I like small ideas for big problems...if we wait for magic bullet big scale solutions were gonna be buried in our own mess before those can arise!
Bob Ehresman
It strikes me that one might be able to simplify even further with a bit of plumbing that could be installed between natively available drink containers to stack them, such as 2 liter polycarbonate or plastic milk jugs. Lower jug holds input, higher jug provides condensation surface, junction bit separates vapor and fluid paths and provides a drain for output.
Stuart Saunders
Frank said \"If light fractions of petrol, per example, are present in the water, it will just evaporate too and condense on the sides, just like the water.\" Not a biggy. A few minor design or operational changes & you have clean distilled water.
Facebook User
I don\'t see how this is a breakthrough. There was a similar device back in the very early sixties for use on liferafts. Using the same principle of evaportion due to solar heat with subsequent collection of the condensate, it distilled fresh water from the sea water which was in plentiful supply - given that the liferaft was floating in it! IIRC the trade name was SolarStill and was tethered while afloat to the liferaft.
greatidea100
\"Buy a child in Cambodia a water ball. Give him/her a lifetime to play.\" This play on words could show a happy child playing with a ball then the comparison of a Cambodia child struggling to drink dirty water. It should tug on the heartstrings of a population whose children play with out worry of clean drinking water.
Will C
\"The claim that it receives 360 degrees of sunlight is not possible with this design....as only 180 degrees of the product are clear in the picture\" I think the 360 degrees refers to the horizontal plane which the design can receive. I guess if the device was supported high off the ground could it receive 360 decrease on the vertical plane.
Adrian Akau
Good idea. What about fitting it with a sectioned plastic flower-like mirror which would wrap around it in transit and then open up when used. Its purpose would be to increase the available energy of the system. Sections of the flower portion could overlap so that when it was opened, maximum area of reflection would become available.